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Richard Brown agrees to give up license to practice law

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of January 26, 2012)
Photo of Richard Brown

A former barrier island attorney – jailed on allegations he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients – has agreed to be permanently barred from practicing law in  Florida regardless of the outcome of his upcoming criminal trial.

Richard Brown signed the paperwork paving the way for him to be disbarred back in December when he stood before a judge and pled guilty to multiple charges that could have put him away for 50 years.

Four days later, the disgraced attorney changed his mind and said he no longer wanted to take the plea deal.

Judge Robert Pegg allowed Brown to withdraw his guilty plea because Brown’s attorney failed to inform his client of the correct minimum time behind bars that he faced – 20 months – and instead told Brown there might be no minimum time to be served.

At that time in December, it appeared the arrangement for Brown to voluntarily agree to be disbarred was also off the table along with the plea deal.

Instead, the paperwork was filed and the process started.

Brown also agreed to pay $6,104.12 in court and Florida Bar investigative costs associated with his criminal case and subsequent disbarment, records obtained by Vero Beach 32963 show.

The Florida Supreme Court still has to sign off on the matter. The Florida Bar already has, bar officials said recently.

If the court agrees, Brown will join the ranks of some 370 attorneys who have been disbarred in Florida since the bar’s 2006-07 fiscal year. In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, more than 91,000 attorneys were members of the Florida Bar.

The 44-year-old Brown was admitted to the bar in 1993 after earning his law degree from the University of South Carolina earlier that year.

He had a beachside practice for many years until much of his life – both personal and professional – headed south.

Brown, who once lived in Summerplace and owned a New England bed and breakfast moved to Fort Pierce in the fall of 2010 to live with his girlfriend after separating from his wife. He subsequently turned over the deed to his beachside office condominium at the Regatta Professional Suites on A1A in lieu of foreclosure around the same time.

Then came a flood of criminal allegations and charges – more than a dozen that claim Brown stole several hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients.

Other charges allege that he even pocketed money meant for a charity that help children with cancer.

Brown has been accused of hacking into the e-mail account of his estranged wife, interior designer Natalie Holtom, and forwarding some 14,000 of her e-mails into his account as the couple’s pending divorce was imminent.

In early December, when Brown took the short-lived plea deal, he went ahead and executed the order consenting to his disbarment as opposed to pulling it along with withdrawing the plea deal.

The voluntary surrender is in lieu of Brown having to defend himself against allegations of disciplinary violations, something that was imminent.

On Jan. 9, court records say Brown participated by telephone from the Indian River County Jail in a conference call in which he said he wished to proceed with the matter and end his legal career in Florida.

Brown has been locked away for nearly 10 months now.

He has been unable to post $967,500 bail. Brown now is set to go to trial on the pending charges sometime in the spring.